As Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies have shown, rebooted products require a makeover that is more than just cosmetic to be truly successful
The word that instantly pops into my head when I think about Christopher Nolan’s body of work is cerebral. It isn’t a word I would normally associate with someone from the film industry but Nolan has practically made a habit of making movies that entertain you as much as they make you think. One of the greatest challenges of the creative process is giving form to what are just ideas and visions in your head without any loss in translation and ensuring that the receiver gets most of what you intended to convey. If it is too simplified or dumbed down, you risk offending the audience by questioning their intelligence and if it is too abstract or obtuse, most will just not get it. Nolan has found that perfect sweet spot wherein he makes his movies just right – be it the complex non-linearity in Memento, the layers and the intricacies in Inception or the fascinating mix of science and science fiction in The Prestige. He has taken his work beyond niche groups and cult followings, and reached the mainstream audience by fostering discussions and fawning interpretations. I believe an artist succeeds when the audience gets exactly what he is trying to communicate and fails, not when they don’t get it but when they instead takeaway something he did not mean to say. But an artist’s work is elevated to an entirely different plane when the audience see what even he did not.
The rise of batman
When Nolan took over the Batman franchise (it feels odd to use a business term for a comic book based movie series but that is just how things have become), it was a given that he would go beyond the traditional good meets evil narrative and bring his unique perspective to the movies. Almost as if taking a cue from the success of Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man series, which focused a lot on the superhero’s frailties and vulnerabilities, Nolan developed the Batman character as an almost ordinary man, who has to deal with the demons of his childhood, overcome his insecurities and fears and gradually evolve into a superhero. The thinking aspect of Nolan’s films is retained, though it is more moral than intellectual in nature, and it is most pronounced in the second instalment of the series, which also happens to be the best – The Dark Knight. This is largely due to the presence of the Joker, a brilliantly nuanced characterisation of a superhero’s nemesis, one that makes you wonder if the Batman is deserving enough to stand against him. In The Dark Knight, he rants and rambles, raising questions of ethics and morality, cornering Batman into internal conflicts like having to choose between his love and what is good for his city, and even dividing Gotham into two factions, making each grapple with the weighty decision of having to kill the other to survive. Nolan attempts to match the Joker in The Dark Knight Rises with Bane, but the mask doesn’t have half the menace that the disturbing smiling face had. However, the final movie is the most mainstream of the three with the gimmickry of the flying Bat, multiple scenes with the wheel switch sequence on the bat pod and the clichéd, yet goose bump inducing, spectacular shot of a colony of bats flying in the backdrop as Bruce Wayne attempts to climb out of the foreign prison to return to save his city.
While the Batman series has seen multiple rebirths through Tim Burton, Joel Schumacher and Nolan, the Spiderman series was just restarted with The Amazing Spider-Man and Superman is expected to make a return yet again in 2013 with the Man of Steel, produced by Nolan. I believe the correct industry term to use here is reboot and it is interesting to note that despite a certain degree of repetitiveness, these films have got widespread audience acceptance. It is almost like the Mahabharata and its multiple retellings from different points of view and with different interpretations, and how even if the story is familiar, the way it is told can make a significant difference. This whole rebooting is not very different from a product rebranding or more appropriately a product refresh. When product sales reaches a plateau or encounters a dip, companies may choose to retire it and replace it with a newer version or re-introduce the same with enhancements and embellishments. Sometimes these might be minor improvements or they might be a complete re-imagining of the product or the product line itself but most often, things are just cosmetic with a change to the packaging or logo.
Rebrands and Reboots
Changes in logos are probably the most frequent and other than situations that demand it, like mergers or a split in collaboration, I struggle to fathom the value of this expensive rebranding exercise. Considering that a lot of advertising and marketing are targeted at visual appeal, I guess a new logo can make a product stand out and catch the consumer’s eye but at the same time when I look at Airtel’s recent logo redesign and its most noticeable effect being the reactions of people trying to figure out its origins and what it symbolised, I can’t help but wonder how much it really benefited the already successful and well-recognised brand.
In the film adaptations of superhero comics, the changes that have mattered and contributed to success have been the fundamental ones – the way the character has been developed or the plots that have been chosen as opposed to the superficial changes like the superhero’s costume, gadgets or actors that have played him. While rebrands are still sought after because they are effective, the value of a refresh or reboot that improves the perceivable quality of product is definitely more likely to give greater returns. Nolan’s reboot of the Batman movies have inarguably been the most successful because, in addition to appealing visually and aurally to audiences, he has attempted to reach beyond just that, to their intellect. In an ever evolving market, where consumers have greater access to information than before and are in a better position to evaluate their choices, maybe it makes sense for companies to pick cerebral appeal over sensory appeal.
Kaushik is a hardware engineer at Nvidia Corp in Bangalore. He blogs intermittently at http://thekingofdreamers.blogspot.com